The Austrian Culture of Coffee, Cake, and Stay a While
Every day is like a Sunday. So goes the Austrian saying on the national imperative to eat, drink, and take general leisure in cafes that are as sumptuous in their décor as they are in patisserie.
Maybe I’m a pessimistic person, but my mind immediately jumps to the Morrissey song of silent and gray Sundays. Or the infamous early 20th century Hungarian Suicide Song, “Gloomy Sunday.” But I imagine other kinds exist too.
Now, a literati culture bolstered by chocolate cake and bitter coffee is a lifestyle I can really get behind; even if I have to re-label a day of the week’s character to something a little more rose-tinted. (It’s no loss, really.)
One reason for the norm has to do with the average apartment size. Reportedly, space was so small in the burgeoning Austrian cities that neighborhood cafes evolved as an extension of the home. Crowds as diverse as the wealthy, landed aristocracy (Franz Joseph I), intellectuals (Sigmund Freud) creatives (Gustav Klimt), and revolutionists (including Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin) would all come to socialize, work, and relax. To this day, locals continue to affectionately refer to cafes as living rooms.
Now this is probably the closest I’ll ever get to an intellectual salon, given that I can’t travel back in time. As if my 19th century idols would even think of including a woman in their tête-à-têtes. (Oh yea Nietzsche, what was that? “Man shall be trained for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior.” Right, almost forgot. Thanks…)
It’s no matter. My tour of duty in Austrian cafes is something I will always relish. Perhaps I’ll try bringing it back with me. Even though forced congregation through a dearth in square footage sounds absolutely un-American. We like our suburban two-car garage homes.
So, hometown coffee shops, you can bring me the check, awkwardly ask me every two minutes if there is anything I would like, I will continue at my pace of one bite of cake every 30 minutes and an entire book, cover-to-cover.